Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Chevron and Ecuador: Indians to Fight for Higher Damages

By Irene Caselli, BBC News
15 February 2011

Quito, Ecuador – Ecuadorean judges have made a landmark multi-billion-dollar ruling against oil giant Chevron. But members of Ecuador's Amazonian communities have now announced they are not satisfied with the damages and will appeal.

A triumphant atmosphere might have been expected as they gathered for a news conference in Quito, given the favourable verdict finally reached in a case that had been going on more than 17 years.

But the mood was somewhat sombre.

"This is the beginning," said Guillermo Grefa, head of the Quichua indigenous community of Rumipamba, Orellana province, some 360km (225 miles) east of Quito.

"Our pachamama [Mother Earth] is dead," he said.

"The fine is not going to be enough for us to restore the forest and to fix the damage.

"We will keep on fighting."

"More needed"

Many observers were surprised by the plaintiffs' decision to appeal against Monday's sentence.

Judge Nicolas Zambrano ruled that Chevron must pay damages of $8.6bn (£5.4bn), plus a further 10% of that sum in reparations to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group formed to represent the plaintiffs.

The largest amount, more than $5bn, goes to soil restoration, while over $2bn should be spent on healthcare. The judgement says Chevron is responsible for health problems, such as cancer and skin disease, reported by the plaintiffs.

But the plaintiffs said that a court-appointed expert had fixed the total amount of reparations at $27bn, while more recent assessments made by their lawyers brought the damages up to $113bn.

The leaders said they were not seeking larger compensation out of greed. They say the court's judgement clearly established what the money is needed for.

Emergildo Criollo, leader of a Cofan tribe in the area, travelled to Quito to express his rejection of the sentence. Two of his children died, one aged six and one aged three, as a result of drinking contaminated water, he said.

"You can't recover dead people, there is no price for that," he said. "Our demand is to get enough money to clean up our Amazon."

There has been no reaction from the Ecuadorean government so far. President Rafael Correa has been extremely cautious after Chevron accused the government of political interference in the case.

For its part, Chevron says it will also reject the damages award - but on the grounds that it amounts to "extortion". The company also claims it has already spent millions of dollars on the clean-up and has a signed agreement with Ecuador absolving it of further responsibility.

But at the news conference Alberto Acosta, a former energy minister under Mr Correa, said the ruling sent an important signal to the oil industry.

"This is a message to all those opportunistic oil and mining companies. This can show them what can happen if they keep destroying nature and human life," said Mr Acosta.